So, we all want to travel, but not all of us can stay in the Palace, drink $15 margaritas and rent a BMW. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it affordably! The ticket to/from Europe may be pricy (the best advice I can give is to buy multi-city airplane tickets, be flexible, diligently check all the websites, search for deals, book in advance and use miles if you have them). But once you get here, travelling in Europe can easily be done on a budget.
Here are some tips for budget travelling in Europe:
- Don’t be afraid to fly cheap! Use cheap airlines such as Ryanir, Wizzair, Easyjet or any of the others to travel around the continent. You get no amenities (like free food, a jetway or comfortable seating) but you do get to fly hundreds of miles for anywhere between 5-100 euros.
- Bring a student card. Whether you’re currently a student or not, bring along a card that has a photo of you and doesn’t say “expired” (even if it is). You’ll get discounts at most major attractions and on some public transport, and it adds up fast!
- Pack a lunch. No seriously, bring food, or go grocery shopping upon arrival. You can taste the local cuisine at a few select meals, but by buying bread, cheese, peanut butter, fruit, olives, pasta, coffee, pretzels, sandwiches, or other easy meals, you’ll save a lot. Also, when you do eat out, ask your accommodation for budget recommendations.
- Book in advance. Don’t be lazy; book your tickets at least a few months in advance and get the early-bird rate. Do your research and go with the best offer. Don’t necessarily choose hotels or transport based on brand-name.
- Travel in the off-season. Prices are generally cheaper if you avoid peak times, and you’ll have the added bonus of less competition and less annoyance from other tourists.
- Take the bus. European buses are not sketchy. They are far, far nicer than their American cousins, whether it’s a city bus to/from the airport or a fancy bus with a food service and wifi from Vienna to Warsaw.
- Stay in hostels or Airbnb. Check out hostelworld or hostelbookers—they have great deals and a lot of information. Generally, I choose a hostel that looks nice in the photo, has a good location, free wifi, and decent recommendations. Hostels are not the sketchy things portrayed in movies. They are fun, informative and usually both cheap and well-located, (usually) ranging $10-30 a night. An easy way to meet people if you’re travelling solo or with a small group of friends. Private rooms available for a higher price if you want to travel with your significant other. Airbnb is a great way to save on accommodation and food, as the flat will come with a kitchen where you can cook. Unlike hostels, you are not charged per person so this is a great way to save if travelling with friends or a significant other. Also helps to give a local perspective and homey feel.
- Avoid the tourist traps. Never eat on the main square. Find a local café a few streets away—the food will be better and the prices will be more affordable. The same goes for drinks. And, always be sure to sample local food and drink as well even if it’s not something you’d normally ingest…the whole point of travelling is to experience new cultures!
- Get your souvenirs from street vendors, not tourist shops. Support local artists, get a more authentic gift (not made in China) and do it for a better price!
- Take the over-nighter. If you’re planning to travel for 7+ hours, consider travelling by night. Whether it’s by boat, plane, bus, or train, prices are generally lower, and you need not pay for accommodation that night. Plus, you avoid the boredom of sitting in a bus for 10 hours with little to do, and you don’t have to waste a precious vacation day.
- Avoid taxis. Taxis are notoriously expensive and can sniff out a tourist a mile away—so why bother? Get a map from your hostel, hotel, or local tourist shop (nearly always located in or just off the main square), put on a comfortable pair of shoes, and get walking! You’ll get to see a lot of interesting things along the way, and you can justify the 27 treats you’ll consume during your trip.
- Use your (or other people’s) connections. If you have friends abroad or even just acquaintances, call them up. You may be able to use their place as a base camp; most people love to host foreigners and show them around their home city/country. You’ll save on room and board. Or at the very least they can give recommendations. Locals always have the best recommendations.
- Consider a railcard. If you plan on a lot of train travel, and you’re a student, was a student vaguely recently and still have the card, or merely just under 26 (each country has different rules), look up getting a railcard. They give you discounts on nearly all train journeys. This is generally only worth it if you’re travelling in Europe for an extended period of time.
- Pack light. Most airlines charge for baggage these days, and budget airlines are stringent on their rules. Look up the rules for ALL airlines you plan to use, and pack accordingly. Be sure to leave space for souvenirs. Always wear you coat and bulkiest pair of shoes on the plane. Ladies, bring a scarf as well–it can be used as a blanket, pillow, head-scarf (in case of inclement weather) or, its original purpose as a scarf, and is also very fashionable
- Choose budget-friendly destinations. Eastern and Southern Europe tend to be cheaper than Western and Northern Europe. That said, avoid places that are well-known as tourist places as they will cost more (perhaps visit them later!) and go for the lesser known. So great compromises are places like Budapest, Tallinn, Riga, Andalucia, Warsaw, Wroclaw, Skopje, Valencia, and Bari. Rural destinations are often cheaper than cosmopolitan cities – Auvergne (France), Gauja River Valley (Latvia), Aosta Valley (Italy), Dingle Peninsula (Ireland), the Tatras/Beskid Mountains (Poland), and the Highlands (Scotland) are some examples. Visiting villages give a great example of Europe and the unique way of like in that country, and are also usually better bargains. Each country has its own, but here are some examples from my travels: Kazimierez Dolny (Poland), Ambert (France), Stonehaven (Scotland), Perouges (France), Zahara de la Sierra (Spain), Trakai (Lithuania) and Peniscola (Spain) to name but a few. Even traditionally-expensive countries can have bargain destinations within if you’re willing to do a little bit of research!
Don’t be afraid to try something new! Be adventurous. Get out there and do things that will make for great stories, great photos, great memories. I realise that not everyone can afford the trip to Europe, but just remember, it doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think.
For the adventurous sorts who want to do more than a 2-week vacation, there are many options:
- Become an au pair
- Teach English to students from preschoolers to retirees and everything in between
- Take language classes at a local university
- Get your Masters Degree or other educational certification abroad
- Get hired at a international company
- Do an internship abroad
- Backpack through Europe via train, bus and budget airlines
- Find a friend who’ll let you stay with them for a few weeks
- Find a summer job working at a camp, hotel, cruise or other tourist industry job
- Participate in a number of programs such as workaway or other volunteer options
- Work at a cafe, bar, restaurant or other similar job in a place frequented by tourists
- Work on a farm or vineyard
- Or even apply for a Fulbright scholarship, Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders, or other educational or volunteering programme
Just beware, the longest you (non EU citizens) can stay without a visa is 3 months and tourist visas cannot be converted to work or student visas in-country. The Schengen area means open borders. Minus a few exceptions such as the UK and Switzerland, travel between the EU states does not involve passport checks; merely travelling from Spain to Italy will not renew your 3-month tourist visa. Do not overstay your 90 day visa or risk deportation and refusal of re-entry to that country. If you DO overstay your visa by a few days by accident, flying through Italy, Spain, or Greece are your best bet; at all costs, avoid the UK, Germany and Switzerland. Travel to Europe with a plan and a return ticket unless you have a visa or EU passport. So far, the Brexit has no changed anything fro travellers to the UK, but stayed updated on the situation as it unfolds. It is very possible to stay in Europe for an extended period of time, just understand the system and be prepared for a lot of red tape. I’ve been doing it for about 2 years now (with a few breaks), and I’ve survived 3 visa processes so far! I know others who have been doing it for many years. I’ve moved to England, Spain, Poland, France and soon Ireland, while it hasn’t been a picnic, it is certainly possible! Here’s to another great year abroad! Good luck, have fun and happy travelling!